Trump’s supporters aren’t just old, racist white guys
The prototypical Trump backer is a poorly educated, slob of a blue collar white male worker or farmer in the backwoods of the Deep South or Midwest who alternately fears and loathes blacks, Latinos, gays, liberals of all stripes, Obama and big government. This is a dangerous and self-serving myth. Even before the first vote was cast in any primary or caucus, last December, Civic Analytics, a Democratic data firm, surveyed more than 10,000 Republican-leaning voters. It found that far from the ignorant bumpkin who is the butt of much caricature and ridicule to explain away the Trump phenomena, the Trump backers defied popular conceptions and stereotypes with the huge numbers of college-educated, suburbanite, business and professionals, young persons, and Latinos and women who said they’d vote for him.
Let’s crunch the numbers. In the survey, Trump got backing from nearly 30 percent of those under age 29, nearly one fourth of Latinos, and a quarter of those who held bachelor’s degrees or higher. The demographic of Trump backers held up in the primaries. In the Northeast states and the Midwest, Trump scored just as big with well-to-do college educated voters in the suburbs as he did with blue collar voters everywhere else.
The Trump vote pattern is really not new. The George Wallace campaigns of the 1960s blended the mix of blatantly racist appeals with thinly-disguised racial code words that hammered big government, corrupt Washington bureaucrats, and liberal social programs. Wallace drew lots of applause and bushels of votes from college educated, suburbanites, and women. GOP presidents Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush picked up on the gold mine of votes that were there for the taking among the disenchanted, fearful, suburbanites, and some ethnics, at all educational levels and genders. They played hard on what millions of voters think, and that’s that government is too big, intrusive and costly and that the traditional family, conservative religious beliefs, patriotism, a strong military, and a sliced down government are still time-tested and noble values that must be fought for and preserved. They are and will continue to push and prod the GOP not to cave in to liberals, Latinos and blacks and become a Democratic lite party.
The foolhardy notion that it’s only ignorant rednecks who wave and shout, act a fool at Trump rallies, and occasionally beat up protesters, also gives smug comfort to many Trump loathers. They can point a finger at them as the predictable racist rabble, and have a field day lampooning, caricaturing, and ridiculing Trump as a racist, misogynist, homophobic uncouth boob. This makes it easy to just as smugly assure that Trump doesn’t have a prayer, and the election is practically in the bag for Hillary.
There are a couple of more Trump oddities to reckon with. One is that at the first GOP presidential debate in August, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio, there were 17 would be GOP presidential contenders on the stage. All of them, with one exception, had solid GOP party credentials. They were either current or former political governors, senators, congresspersons, were firmly committed to the GOP core conservative philosophy and had firm financial backers. All, that is except one. The one was, of course, Trump. He held no office. He was considered by straight line conservatives as not conservative enough since he had contributed money and support to Democrats, even some liberal Democrats. He was a businessman whose businesses took jobs out the country. He had a checkered and turbulent personal life. He said outrageous, bigoted, blatantly misogynist things about immigrants and women.
He was viewed by much of the GOP establishment as an ego-driven reality show con man and not a serious presidential candidate. He was endlessly mocked, ridiculed, laughed at, scorned, lampooned, and caricatured by many in the media and the general public. The pundits, the studied political analysts, officials in both parties, and the prognosticators were near universal in their smug prediction that his presidential tent would fold quickly and give way to the serious, and credible GOP candidates.
Yet, in April, 2016, eight months after the first GOP debate in Cleveland, of the 17 would-be GOP candidates on the stage that night, Trump was the only one still standing. He had beaten all the predictions and the odds.
The other is that the white males who have been the traditional bulwark of GOP support from the Reagan years on and are Trump’s core backers too, also range from the less-educated, blue collar worker to business and professional, university graduates. Many of them were one-time Democrats. Despite much talk about their virtual disappearance as a political force, the truth is anything but that. They still comprise one in three American voters.
Trump got where he is with a lot of help. And a lot of that help didn’t come from just a bunch of poorly-educated white guys.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.